O.K., Be Prepared, but How Do You Foot the G.I. Bills?

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It's time to invest in defense stocks again! The respected, non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released a report Thursday afternoon contending that keeping the U.S. military at a steady level of preparedness will cost nearly 20 percent more than the nation is now spending on troops and arms.

In other words, this year's defense budget — $289 billion — really should be $340 billion to keep the U.S. military at its current size and primed to fight. Such a steep boost in defense spending is well beyond the recommended hikes pushed by Al Gore, who has called for spending $10 billion more a year over the coming decade, and George W. Bush, who has called for a $4.5 billion annual hike.

Coming six weeks before a presidential election in which defense readiness and spending have been hot topics, the CBO study is likely to split defense experts into two camps: Those who say the nation must boost defense spending to cover the shortages highlighted in the report, and those who would rather trim the U.S. responsibilities to keep the Pentagon budget blueprint from expanding so much.